Excerpted from page 10 of the November/December 2014 edition of AOA Focus.
Personal involvement in the political process is among the most important contributions AOA members can make. Through the Keyperson Program, AOA aims to have at least one doctor of optometry assigned to every member of Congress. Keypersons are volunteers who have an existing relationship with a legislator or are willing to forge a new relationship. Get tips from keypersons on how to prepare for the position.
Get to know your legislator.If you don't have an existing relationship with your member of Congress, get involved by volunteering for his or her campaign. "Early participation and donations are always remembered," says Lee Ann Barrett, O.D., executive director of the Missouri Optometric Association. "For an established legislator, make contact with them back home. Attend a fundraiser and introduce yourself. Offer your expertise and knowledge. Talk to them about your issues. Stay in contact with the legislator."
Become accustomed to speaking about optometric issues.You know the optometric issues, but learn how to explain them clearly and succinctly. Legislators cannot be experts on every topic so they rely on professionals to keep them informed. "Keypersons are the boots on the ground," Dr. Barrett says. "We have a qualified and credible AOA lobbying team, but the message resonates so much more when it comes from a constituent. We always have a story to tell about how a piece of legislation affects our small businesses and communities." It is critical that these messages come from doctors of optometry, says Jennifer Planitz, O.D., chair of AOA's Federal Legislative Action and Keyperson Committee. "This is the only way we will maintain access for them to hear our voices to help them make good judgments when it comes to our issues."
Don't be intimidated.Don't be scared off by the loftiness of the legislator or the political process. "Call the legislator and offer to help. It's really that simple," says Vince Brandys, O.D., senior director of governmental and external affairs at the Illinois Eye Institute. "I have been involved in politics since my teens, and I have never come across a legislator or candidate who refused any help." Karen Heaston, O.D., who chairs the Federal Legislative Committee for the Optometric Physicians of Washington, says many optometric leaders are retiring, so it's crucial that younger doctors get involved as keypersons. "We are currently faced with the question of who will take their place and help create our future. We need doctors who practice in big cities, rural areas, tertiary centers and small, private practice to tell their stories."
Congress’ Sept. 15 deadline for bill language passes with lawmakers backing key guardrails that AOA’s advocates say must be in place for a workable benefit. Yet, price tag developments may forestall efforts.
A September deadline means now is the time for AOA members to act. Attend an upcoming special advisory group session for the latest legislative information and contact your members of Congress.
The AOA continues its support of optometry students, advocating for a temporary suspension of student loan debt due to the pandemic, as well as a long-term avenue toward loan forgiveness and repayment.